My Week in Manga: August 1-August 7, 2016

My News and Reviews

Last week brought some very good news! Sparkler Monthly‘s Kickstarter campaign for its fourth year was successfully funded, so we’ll all be getting another twelve months of phenomenal new content in addition to all of marvelous the Sparkler Monthly content that already exists, most of which is freely available online. Somewhat related to that, last week the winner of Experiments in Manga’s Sparkler Monthly Year 4 giveaway was announced. I was hoping to post the wrap up to my horror manga review project last week, too, but it looks like that should be going up sometime this week, instead.

Speaking of Kickstarters, there were two recently launched projects that specifically caught my attention last week. The first is a project to publish the second volume of Moonshot, a comics anthology featuring indigenous creators. The first volume was very impressive and earned multiple awards and honors, so I expect the second volume will be great, too. The other campaign is for the first print volume of Der-shing Helmer’s webcomic The Meek. I haven’t actually read The Meek myself yet, but I’ve heard very good things about the series.

Elsewhere online (well, I guess specifically at Anime News Network), it was a Seven Seas sort of week: Deb Aoki interviewed Okayado, the creator of the massively successful Monster Musume, at Anime Expo, the transcript of which has now been posted. I haven’t had time to listen to it yet, but the most recent ANNCast featured Jason DeAngelis, Adam Arnold and Lissa Patillo from Seven Seas. And in licensing news, Seven Seas will be releasing Atami Michinoku’s The High School Life of a Fudanshi.

Quick Takes

Fairy Tail, Volume 52Fairy Tail, Volumes 52-54 by Hiro Mashima. Despite its immense popularity, for me Fairy Tail fairly tends to be fairly hit-or-miss. Mashima readily admits that he doesn’t always know where he’s going with the story and characters, but every once in a while he manages to pull it all together to form something truly grand and epic. I have to admit, I’m really liking the most recent story arc of Fairy Tail. Once again, the members of the Fairy Tail guild are responsible for trying to save the world, but the enemies that they face this time are so strong that it’s not something that they will be able to do alone. To me, this showdown feels more personal than some of the previous world-altering battles. Granted, that impression may in part be because my reading of Fairy Tail has been somewhat fragmented. However, I greatly appreciate the more character-driven arcs of Fairy Tail. These three volumes explore the past of Fairy Tail and the guild’s connection to Zeref, the dark wizard cursed to live forever who is trying to find a way to end it all. (This I believe is all explored in greater depth in the Fairy Tail Zero spinoff, which I suspect I would likely enjoy.) The battles in this story arc are well-paced in addition to being suitably dramatic and over-the-top, fitting for a conflict that will determine the fate of the world.

Haikyu!, Volume 1Haikyu!!, Volumes 1-2 by Haruichi Furudate. Due to my increasingly busy schedule, I’ve only managed to watch the first few episodes of the Haikyu!! anime adaptation, but that was more than enough to determine that I wanted to read the original manga when it was released in English. I find that even though I’m not especially interested in sports, I really enjoy sports manga, and so far Haikyu!!, about a boys’ high school volleyball team, doesn’t disappoint. Like many other sports-oriented manga, Haikyu!! features characters who are in one way or another exceptionally skilled or naturally talented athletes. What makes Haikyu!! stand out from other sports manga that I’ve read is that it emphasizes teamwork in a way that I’ve not usually seenthe manga’s not just about great players who are simply part of the same team, it’s about teammates bringing out the best in one another, finding ways to effectively complement their strengths and weaknesses to form a group that’s more capable than any one individual. The characterization is pretty great in Haikyu!!, too, which is particularly important for a series which will likely have a fair number of characters to keep track of. I really like the characters in Haikyu!!; they all have very distinctive personalities. If Haikyu!! continues as strongly as it begins, I’m definitely in for the long haul with this series.

UQ Holder!, Volume 7UQ Holder!, Volumes 7-8 by Ken Akamatsu. There’s something about UQ Holder! that rubs me the wrong way. Frustratingly, I haven’t been able to identify exactly what it is about the series, especially as there are parts of the manga that I actually like. I do wonder if part of this dissonance is caused by the fact that I’ve never read Negima! Magister Negi Magi. Although UQ Holder! initially seemed to be a stand-alone spinoff, lately it seems to be tying itself back to the original to a greater extent; I feel like I’m missing some important context. Much of the humor in UQ Holder! seems to fall flat for me, too, even when I can tell that what I’m reading is intended to be funny. The series also seems to have a bit of an identity crisis, as though Akamatsu can’t quite decide what type of story it’s supposed to be. At this point, UQ Holder! has now suddenly veered into becoming a martial arts tournament; previous incarnations of the series included a murder mystery, among other things. The martial arts tournament was a good choice, thoughthe battles in UQ Holder! are generally the most entertaining aspect of the series. The tournament also gives the characters an actual, definitive goal to focus on rather than their more ambiguous ambitions. These volumes also delve more into Evangeline’s backstory, which was good to see.

My Week in Manga: September 7-September 13, 2015

My News and Reviews

I was on a much-needed vacation last week; the family spent a fair amount of time in northern Michigan enjoying nature and good food and drink. I got some extra sleep and caught up on some of my reading and writing, too. All in all, a lovely time was had. I wasn’t online much at all except to post a couple of reviews, so I’m sure that I’ve missed out on all sorts of things. (If you would, please do fill me in on anything that was particularly interesting!) The first review I posted was of the rather clever debut mystery novel The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji (who also happens to be the creator of the horror mystery Another and the husband of Fuyumi Ono). I also reviewed Hirohiko Araki’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 1: Phantom Blood, Volume 1 which continues to be marvelously strange and over-the-top.

Quick Takes

The Ancient Magus' Bride, Volume 2The Ancient Magus’ Bride, Volume 2 by Kore Yamazaki. The first volume of The Ancient Magus’ Bride was one of my favorite debuts of 2015 and I continue to thoroughly enjoy the series with the second volume. Although overall there is a disconcerting, dark, ominous, and creepy atmosphere to the manga, but there are also moments light; the horror and mystery are accompanied by touches of humor and hope that help keep the series from becoming too oppressive. Yamazaki also captures the capricious nature of the fae perfectly. I was rather pleased to see Titania and Oberon, the queen and king of the fairies, introduced in this volume as well. Although more is hinted about Elias’ past—he has connections to the fae, mages, and alchemists, but isn’t really accepted by any of them—he’s still reluctant to open up and talk about it. He largely remains shrouded in mystery, but it seems as though he may have more in common with Chise than would initially appear. Their relationship has a peculiar dynamic to it in addition to a significant imbalance of power, but I’m very curious to see how it develops; there may be healing involved for both of them.

Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto, Volume 1Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto, Volume 1 by Nami Sano. The exceedingly odd Sakamoto doesn’t seem to care at all about what other people might think of him, making him immune to bullying and giving him the reputation of being the coolest student in school despite his weirdness. Somehow, he is able to take control of any situation and use it to his advantage; he always ends up looking good. The girls all love him and the guys, though they would like to hate him, can’t help but admire and respect him. And that’s what makes the manga so funny. So far, Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto is fairly episodic although there are some recurring characters and running jokes. Both the series and Sakamoto are admittedly strange, but the comedy is played seriously with an incredibly straight face. At the same time, Sano’s artwork highlights the drama and humor of the various situations. Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto is kind of absurd and yet highly entertaining. I’m not sure for how long Sano will be able to keep the gags fresh, but I’m looking forward to reading more of the series and finding out.

UQ Holder!, Volume 5UQ Holder!, Volume 5 by Ken Akamatsu. Up until this point, my feelings toward UQ Holder! have been fairly lukewarm. I’ve enjoyed the wide variety of immortals and some of the action sequences can be highly entertaining, but the story and characters more often than not are frustratingly directionless and shallow. That being said, I was surprised by how much I actually liked the fifth volume of UQ Holder!. I didn’t have much hope for it at first as the opening battle ends up being extremely anticlimactic. I’m sure this was meant to be an amusing development, but Akamatsu’s sense of humor in the series doesn’t always work for me. But then four of the UQ Holder members are sent undercover as high school students to investigate a string of serial murders in which an immortal may be involved. Not unexpectedly, some silliness ensues alongside the seriousness of the killings. The murder case is interesting, though, even if its solution ultimately feels forced. And while I liked some of the newly-introduced characters, the lead’s oblivious optimism and aggressive friendliness continues to be both an asset and a detriment to the series.


My Week in Manga: April 20-April 26, 2015

My News and Reviews

Last week at Experiments in Manga I posted a review of Kaori Ekuni’s quiet yet devastating novel God’s Boat. Ekuni’s debut novel Twinkle Twinkle is one of my favorites, so I made it a point to read more of her work. The underlying premise of God’s Boat—a young woman and her daughter living their lives together while the child’s father has gone missing—is somewhat similar to Hiromi Kawakami’s novel Manazuru which a I read relatively recently, but the two books are very different. I find Ekuni’s work to be very effective, so I wish that more was available in translation. Last week I also posted my second Adapatation Adventures feature, this time taking a closer look at The Twelve Kingdoms and comparing the anime adaptation with the original novels. Both version of The Twelve Kingdoms are excellent. I’m really hoping that one day the novels might be licensed again.

As for other interesting reading that I discovered last week, Brigid Alverson wrote A Brief History of Ultraman in honor of Viz licensing one of the more recent Ultraman manga. Jonathan Clements posted an article about the Japanese manga industry, particularly in regards to digital publishing. Alicia at Things We Lost at Dusk translated an excerpt of an interview with Hanamura Eiko, Chiba Tetsuya, and Takemiya Keiko about drawing girls in early shoujo manga. Other interesting things of note, the 2015 Eisner Award Nominations have been announced. As always, there are some great comics on the list. Though, as usual, manga has for the most part been relegated into the Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia category: All You Need Is Kill, In Clothes Called Fat, Master Keaton, One-Punch Man, Showa: A History of Japan, and Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki. The major exception this year is Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It which is up for Best Anthology. Viz’s Hello Kitty, Hello 40: A Celebration in 40 Stories was also nominated in the Best Publication for Early Readers category. And speaking of Viz, the publisher is currently running a survey about social media and websites.

Quick Takes

Let's Dance a Waltz, Volume 1Let’s Dance a Waltz, Volume 1 by Natsumi Ando. I’ve previously read two other series in which Ando was involved: Kitchen Princess and Arisa. Her manga tend to incorporate a fair number of well-worn shoujo tropes and melodrama, which is true of Let’s Dance a Waltz as well. But, the manga are put together in such a way that makes for an enjoyable read even if the series aren’t particularly ground breaking. Let’s Dance a Waltz is cute, and I liked the series’ focus on ballroom dancing, which isn’t often seen in manga in English. However, one thing that really annoyed and bothered me was how Ando handled Himé’s weight at the end of the volume. After two weeks of intense dancing, she loses over forty pounds, becoming stereotypically slim and pretty. She was already cute before that though. Sadly, I suppose it was too much to ask that her and the series’ expressed admiration of the other dancers was an appreciation of their elegance and confidence rather than their slim figures. But at least Himé seems to be interested in dancing for dancing’s sake rather than as a weight loss program.

Lies & KissesLies & Kisses Masara Minase. A few of Minase’s boys’ love manga have been translated into English, but so far Lise & Kisses is the only one that I’ve actually read. Tatsuya has been searching for his long-lost half-brother Haruka and unwittingly sleeps with him after bringing an attractive stranger home from the bar one evening. Haru does switch from being the adoring younger brother to the sex-craving lover surprisingly easily and quickly, so the manga loses its believability very early on. But ignoring that, the aptly named Lies & Kisses actually handles the characters’ emotional turmoil and baggage surprisingly well. The reasons for Haru and Tatsuya’s repeated miscommunication makes sense and their conflicting feelings as their relationship evolves are understandable. When it is revealed that they may or may not actually be related by blood, even more emotional drama ensues. Most of the decisions made by the two men to lie and to hide things from each other, while misguided, are generally done so with good intentions and with concern for the other’s well-being.

UQ Holder, Volume 4UQ Holder!, Volume 4 by Ken Akamatsu. I continue to be somewhat frustrated by UQ Holder! and the hero’s ambiguous and seemingly directionless ambitions, but I have liked the last couple of volumes more than the first two. Tōta’s goal is still extraordinarily vague and uncomplicated—as far as I can tell, at this point it basically amounts to just wanting to be awesome—but at least the fight scenes tend to be fairly entertaining. The part of UQ Holder! that currently interests me the most is the wide variety of immortals in the series. This particular volume reveals yet another character with a special skill that, with careful use, more or less renders her immortal. Functionally, she is able to create a “save point” which, although it does have its limitations, is an admittedly cool ability. The fourth volume also ties UQ Holder! in a little closer to the tangentially related series Negima! by introducing one of its major characters, Fate Averruncus, as a primary antagonist. Hopefully this means the story of UQ Holder! will become more engaging now that it seems that the manga might be developing an actual plot.

Wolfsmund, Volume 5Wolfsmund, Volumes 5-6 by Mitsuhisa Kuji. If I recall correctly, Wolfsmund was initially expected to end with the sixth volume, but it looks like there will be at least seven volumes if not more. Wolfsmund is an extraordinarily brutal manga and its violence is not at all romanticized. The fighting and torture is savage and cruel, making the series an uncomfortable read at times. In these two volumes of Wolfsmund, the Swiss rebellion continues its attack on the “Wolf’s Maw” of Sankt Gotthard Pass. Austrian reinforcements are expected, so their time is limited. They must overtake the barrier station and its bailiff as quickly as possible. Desperate measures are needed in order to accomplish that. The rebels literally throw their lives and bodies at the fortress, becoming willing participants in what amounts to a suicide mission. Even after breaching the outer defenses, they still have to contend with the traps found inside the barrier station itself and the clever design of a fortress built to withstand invasion from the outside. The deaths are gruesome and extremely unpleasant, but ultimately the rebels are able to overcome simply because they have a great number of people who are willing to die for their cause.

Manga Giveaway: UQ Holder! Giveaway Winner

UQ Holder!, Volume 1And the winner of the UQ Holder! manga giveaway is… Jenni!

As the winner, Jenni will receive a copy of UQ Holder!, Volume 1 by Ken Akamatsu as published by Kodansha Comics. With recent series like UQ Holder! and Ajin: Demi-Human coming out, I’ve been thinking about immortals in manga, and so for this giveaway I asked people to tell me about some of their favorite immortals. Check out the giveaway comments for all of the specifics, or the even longer (but still select) list of manga below.

Some of the manga available in English featuring immortals of various types:
3×3 Eyes by Yuzo Takada
Ajin: Demi-Human by Tsuina Miura and Gamon Sakurai
Black Butler by Yana Toboso
Blade of the Immortal by Hiraoki Samura
Blood+ by Katsura Asuka
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion by Majiko!
Durarara!! written by Ryohgo Narita, illustrated by Akiyo Satorigi
Five Star Stories by Mamoru Nagano
Hellsing by Kouta Hirano
Hoshin Engi by Ryu Fujisaki
Kamisama Kiss by Julietta Suzuki
Immortal Rain by Kaori Ozaki
Lunar Legend Tsukihime by Sasaki Shounen
Mermaid Saga by Rumiko Takahashi
Olympos by Aki
Kieli written by Yukako Kabei, illustrated by Shiori
Mystique Mandala of Hell by Hideshi Hino
Phoenix by Osamu Tezuka
The Seven Deadly Sins by Nakaba Suzuki
Suikoden III by Aki Shimizu
Trigun by Yasuhiro Nightow
UQ Holder! by Ken Akamatsu
Vassalord by Nanae Chrono
Vampire Knight by Matsuri Hino
Vampire Princess Miyu by Narumi Kakinouchi and Toshiki Hirano
Wish by CLAMP
Ze by Yuki Shimizu

Thank you to everyone who shared your favorite immortals with me! I hope you’ll all join me again for the next giveaway.

Manga Giveaway: UQ Holder! Giveaway

Despite being the shortest month of the year, for me February always seems to stretch on forever. With that in mind, I thought it oddly appropriate to offer for this month’s giveaway a manga that features immortals. Specifically, this month you will all have the chance to enter for a chance to win the first volume of Ken Akamatsu’s most recent series UQ Holder!, a sequel of sorts to his manga Negima!: Magister Negi Magi, as published in English by Kodansha Comics. (Don’t worry if you’ve never read Negima!, UQ Holder! can be easily read on its own.) As always, the giveaway is open worldwide!

UQ Holder!, Volume 1

At this point it’s probably not much of a secret that I enjoy manga about immortals and the consequences of immortality. Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal was one of the very first manga that I read and it continues to be a favorite. (It was even the focus of my first monthly manga review project.) More recently, manga series like Ken Akamatsu’s UQ Holder! and Tsuina Miura and Gamon Sakurai’s Ajin: Demi-Human have caught my attention specifically because immortals are involved. Granted, there are other elements in both of those series that intrigue and appeal to me as well. When it comes to immortals, UQ Holder! is interesting in that it features a variety of characters with different types of immortality; most series I’ve read tend to stick to just one.

So, you may be wondering, how can you win a copy of UQ Holder!, Volume 1?

1) In the comments below, tell me a little about your favorite immortal from a manga. (Never encountered an immortal in your manga reading? Simply mention that instead.)
2) For a second entry, name a manga featuring immortals that hasn’t yet been mentioned by me or by someone else in the comments.
3) If you’re on Twitter, you can earn a bonus entry by tweeting, or retweeting, about the contest. Make sure to include a link to this post and @PhoenixTerran (that’s me).

It’s as easy as that. Each person is able to earn up to three entries for this giveaway and has one week to submit comments. Giveaway entries can also be emailed to be directly at phoenixterran(at)gmail(dot)com. (I will then post your comments here in your name.) The giveaway winner will be randomly selected and announced on March 4, 2015.

VERY IMPORTANT: Include some way that I can contact you. This can be an e-mail address in the comment form, a link to your website, Twitter username, or whatever. If I can’t figure out how to get a hold of you and you win, I’ll just draw another name.

Contest winner announced–Manga Giveaway: UQ Holder! Giveaway Winner